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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT

In profile: Ukraine's presidential contenders

From an original list of 15 candidates, the contest for the Ukrainian presidency has been whittled down to a choice between two men: Leonid Kuchma and Petro Symonenko. All the other candidates dropped out after the first round of voting held on 31st October.

Below are brief portraits of all the main candidates.

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Leonid Kuchma
"[We need] preservation of Ukraine's non-aligned status while simultaneously avoiding the prospect of becoming a buffer, a 'grey zone' between Nato and Russia".

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been in power for just over five years, For much of that time he has been at loggerheads with the leftist-dominated parliament. According to a recent opinion poll, Kuchma is the favourite to win the presidential elections, though he is thought unlikely to get more than 50 per cent of the vote, meaning he would face a run-off second round.

Kuchma, 61, won the presidential elections in July 1994 against Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk. He garnered overwhelming support in the Russian-oriented eastern and southern Ukrainian regions, on a programme of market reforms, fighting corruption, strengthening relations with Russia and upgrading the status of the Russian language.

In the Soviet era Kuchma worked at the Pivdenne missile design bureau in Dnipropetrovsk, in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland. He was born in 1938, in the northern region of Chernihiv.

Kuchma has pledged to create a bicameral parliament if re-elected and slim down the state bureaucracy.

He has promised to create a million new jobs, increase real incomes by 60 per cent and pay wage and pension arrears within six months of re-election. Tax reform, support for small businesses and the completion of land reform are also on his agenda. In foreign policy, he promises a non-bloc status for Ukraine and stable partnership with all democratic countries, including a strategic partnership with Russia.

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Petro Symonenko
"Voters insist that power in all its forms be given back to the working people - the true owners of Soviet Ukraine."

Petro Symonenko, 47, heads the Ukrainian Communist Party. In 1993 he was elected first secretary of the Communist Party and was elected to parliament in March 1994 for a constituency in the Donetsk region, a major coal mining area. He was re-elected in March 1998 on the Communist Party list.

Symonenko wants a return to the socialist path of development. He has set the target of restoring industrial and agricultural production to the 1990 level within five years if elected.

He would restore councils of workers' deputies and abandon the free market, reintroducing state regulation. Privatisation would be stopped, and strategically important enterprises would return to state ownership.

Nevertheless, compared with the populist rhetoric of rival candidate Natalya Vitrenko, he sounds positively moderate.

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Natalia Vitrenko
"If we elect a candidate whose programme carries the cancellation of the treaty with the IMF, it is possible to change the situation at once. How? By breaking agreements with the IMF, freezing the repayment of debts ..."

Fiery populist Natalia Vitrenko maintains that Ukraine under Leonid Kuchma is about to become a colony of the West. Vitrenko's anti-western rhetoric has certainly caused a stir, and some opinion polls put her above the official Communist candidate, Petro Symonenko, in second place behind President Kuchma. An open admirer of neighbouring Belarus's anti-western president, Alexander Lukashenko, the 47-year old leader of the Progressive Socialist Party wants to re-nationalise all industry and re-establish close relations, if not union, with Russia.

Her emotional demands for better welfare provisions are attacked by her rivals as unrealistic. But with her squat figure and inelegant clothes, she strikes a chord with many poorer Ukrainians, especially in the industrial east, where there's a large Russian-speaking population.

Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Nataliya Vitrenko was targeted in a hand-grenade attack at an election rally in early October. She was injured, along with two Progressive Socialist MPs and 26 others.

Although defeated in the first round of voting, the party has said it will back Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, if he agrees to make Ms Vitrenko prime minister.

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Yevhen Marchuk
"[We need] strong and influential state power, which will support economic initiative and enterprise, and will liquidate mafia organisations".

Yevhen Marchuk, a former prime minister who also previously worked for the Soviet KGB, has vowed to crack down on corruption if he is elected. Marchuk, 58, was in the leftist electoral alliance called the Kaniv Four.

The alliance, before it disintegrated on the eve of the vote, grouped candidates who favoured a market economy but with significant state intervention. He served as Prime Minister from June 1995 to May 1996.

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Oleksandr Moroz
"This government has caused more damage to the Ukrainian economy than the fascist occupation ... In October, it will not simply be an election, it will be our Stalingrad, when all honest Ukrainian people will unite."

Oleksandr Moroz, 55, heads the Socialist Party. He ran for president in 1994, when he got 13% in the first round. His greatest support came from the Luhansk, Sumy and Khmelnitskyy regions.

He was parliament speaker from 1994 to 1998. Moroz says he wants to "liquidate the existing regime of banditocracy" . According to Moroz, "a group of criminal elements headed by Kuchma have established a system of rule by bandits under the slogan of reform" .

Moroz, another former member of the Kaniv Four alliance, has promised a "people's economy" based on market principles and state regulation. He is opposed to selling off land, pledging "comprehensive state support" for rural areas. On foreign policy, Moroz has said Ukraine "will not be in Nato because they don't need us and Ukraine doesn't need Nato" .

Like Ms Vitrenko, Oleksandr Moroz was knocked out in the first round of the contest and has given his support to Mr Symonenko.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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